Successful screenwriters live in fame and fortune. But, that didn’t happen without pain and suffering. Michael Hauge, a top script consultant in Hollywood shared some misconceptions in the movie industry saying, “The first misconception is that Hollywood is an easy path to fame and fortune. Perhaps a writer watches some brainless TV show and concludes that anybody with the I.Q. of corn could write drivel like that. Then she reads about how Joe Esterhasz sold a spec script for slightly more than the gross national product of Portugal, while she’s wondering how long she can get by on her $25 check from ‘Big Rig Monthly’ for her article on mud flaps. And then some polite, but chicken-hearted, publisher tries to let her down easy by saying that her 873-page manuscript about the Millard Fillmore White House years would be much better as a movie. So before you know it, she’s typing ‘FADE IN.”
Screenplay, like any other feat, present its own challenges and reward. With that, an aspirant screenplay writer should not give up easily.
4 Basic Steps In Writing A Good Screenplay
Concentrate on one genre. For beginners, picking a genre that interests them the most is a good place to start. They need to focus their energy in writing projects under one genre until they make their first sale. Seasoned screenplay writers didn’t make their first pay check immediately after they finished writing their first project. Stephanie Palmer, a screenwriting coach and best-selling author of Good in a Room shares, “Most beginning screenwriters create projects in lots of different genres and fail to sell them, over and over again. Then, one day, when they’ve finally written their tenth project in one genre, they get an agent and finally sell their first screenplay!”
To master a genre or get as much idea about it, it is recommended for an aspirant writer to watch as many movies under this genre as possible, read reviews and study what makes them a good movie.
Draw attention to story development. The most common problem among beginning screenplay writers is that they thought they already know how to write a story. Palmer said, “A story is a journey of transformation. The question is, do you know story well enough to use it? A lot of people know about the importance of diet and exercise. They know they should eat less, eat differently, exercise more – but they aren’t able to use what they know. Then there are professional athletes who live and breathe the principles of healthy living. They use what they know because it’s their career on the line. To work as a professional screenwriter, this is the equivalent. You have to do more than just know how to write a story, you have to know it at a deep enough level that you can use what you know. Otherwise, you can read scripts, watch movies, write screenplays, and STILL not get anywhere.” Palmer suggests that instead of writing one complete script at 120 pages, developing fifty projects into 2-3 page pitches, which is also equivalent to a 120-page story, makes a lot of impact in terms of experience and in being able to sell as many stories as possible in a shorter period of time.
Get quality feedbacks early and frequently. For scriptwriters, this is one of their lifelines. However, beginners don’t realize this yet until they have written tons of screenplays that don’t sell. Palmer says, “Professional writers get feedback early and often. Before a professional screenwriter goes to script, they get feedback on their pitches to select their best ideas. Then they get feedback on their complete pitches and treatments to make sure they are executing it well. They spend a lot of time testing their stories because they know it will save them a ton of time when it comes to writing the screenplays.”
Learn the structure very well. This means immersing into the learning process, even if it means for writers to dissect and analysed a successful project down to the atomic level. Palmer said that every successful writer she knows has gone down to this process and when they did, it made them, “know the core story, every beat, every sequence, every scene, every shot. They can watch the movie and turn the pages of the script in their head. Once you’ve done this, watching movies and reading scripts is a different thing.” She also acknowledges that beginners will find movie watching fun and educational; however, this is not enough education, but superficial knowledge. Unless they try to learn and understand the deeper events in these movies, they’ll remain clueless and unable to write screenplays that sell.